First of all: Charlotte Mason differentiates between spelling and reading–and I think she’s right to some degree. Phonics rules help immensely with reading (and she does talk about this a little in the pages that lead up to her discussion of spelling in volume 1). They help a lot, but not quite as much, with spelling. Think of words like There and their–and is there really any reason why they shouldn’t be spelt thair or thare? Think of the ‘r-controlled vowels,’ er, ir, and sometimes ‘or’ (word, work)–phonics gets you to a point with those, but a little memorization is necessary after that.
In general, what Charlotte Mason suggested for spelling is that the spelling word be written properly where the child can study it. He doesn’t copy it ten times, he simply looks at it with all the focused attention he can muster up. When he thinks he has memorized the way the word looks, ask him to close his eyes and picture it. Then have him spell aloud. When he can do this properly, you might ask him to write it correctly. We use a whiteboard to do this.
Of my four children who ‘do school’ currently, the oldest was a natural speller. The other three have varying levels of spelling incompetence.=) I nearly despaired of the second girl ever learning to spell. She misspelled words she copied. I began using Miss Mason’s method with her when she was about twelve. I do not know if it was the method or the age, but she did begin spelling better, and I now am not embarrassed for us both over her spelling.
The 11 and 12 y.o. Still need to work on their spelling, but I figure it will improve by high school.
You could also use a good word processing program, one that automatically underlines misspelled words (in case you can’t tell, I am not using one in this post and since I am typing on a laptop, I have many errors). Then have him use his right click mouse button–this brings up a box with suggested corrections. He then would instantly have the properly spelled word before him (albeit with several other options, but they would all be spelled correctly) and could choose that. He might take a moment to visualize the word carefully before going on.
Here is what she suggests regarding dictation. I think it’s possible that the child selects the passage from his reading (I know that she says this for younger children doing copywork). Oh, and she says children of 8 or 9 should do a paragraph, older children ‘a page or two or three!’ I assume then that the younger children are not doing this at all (I think I know what they do, and it would require a whole other post to explain). Frankly, none of mine have been ready to write a paragraph at 8 or 9, but I’m just passing on what I understand of Miss Mason’s suggestions. Then the child ‘prepares’ the passage himself (this is on page 242 of volume one). This preparation involves having the child slowly look through the passage and anytime he comes to a word he thinks he can’t spell he is to look at it attentively, then close his eyes and picture it with his eyes shut. After a bit of this, the teacher or mother asks him what passages he is still unsure of, and at this time may point out others that she thinks might give him trouble.
He looks these over again, using the same method–just trying to look at the word carefully enough that when he closes his eyes he can picture it accurately.
If there are any words still worrying him, the teacher writes them one by one on a chalkboard or whiteboard (this could work in a classroom, but the whole class would be suggesting words, so some words would be covered that some of the children are not worried about). Again, the child looks at the word writ largely on the board, looks until he has a picture of it, and then she erases the word and moves on.
The child decides when he is ready for dictation. Now, where I am very skeptical is that this whole process, she says, should take only five to ten minutes!
Finally, the teacher starts giving dictation. She enunciates clearly, reads a clause at a time, never repeating herself. She does not say ‘comma’ or give any other indication of punctuation except for her voice inflection.
At this point she is ready with her stick it note or masking tape or label with which to quickly cover any misspelled word.
At any rate, this is dictation Charlotte Mason style, or at least, how she recommended at the time she wrote volume one. She may have changed her practices later, as she did in other areas.
However, it’s a very important part of Charlotte Mason that Handwriting is the preliminary step in copywork or dictation. Until a child knows how to make each letter and make it well, with little mental effort or decision (in other words, habit) letter practice is pretty much all that copywork encompasses.
So dictation isn’t begun until copywork is mastered, and copywork actually begins as handwriting and letter form practice. Once these are mastered, it is for exposure to the best in writing. Copywork done properly forces a child to slow down and absorb the punctuation details, notice capitalization, and internalize sparkling prose (For this reason, a child’s own stories are not the most ideal source for copywork a la CM).
Finely crafted, well written sentences are the best sources. In our home we have a different selection each day of the week. One day is poetry, another Bible, another from their history, another from Science, and one from their literature selection. A copywork selection from the foreign language being studied is also good. Hymns may also be used.
Until you are sure a child can form all his letters correctly, you would not give him a selection to copy, and at first you would still watch carefully to see that he formed them properly–shaping them properly, starting at the right point on the paper, holding his pencil properly.
You could still practice spelling (by the way, Miss Mason recommends spelling practice be based on word families) but with letter tiles instead. You could use magnetic letters, scrabble tiles, whatever–and the child can rather painlessly practice spelling this way (spell the word you dictate, using the tiles, then picture it in his head clearly).
From volume 1 of Charlotte Mason: No work should be given to a child that he cannot execute perfectly, and then perfection should be required of him as a matter of course. For instance, he is set to do a copy of strokes, and is allowed to show a slateful of all sorts of slopes and all sorts of intervals; his moral sense is vitiated, his eye is injured. Set him six strokes to copy; let him, not bring a slateful, but six perfect strokes, at regular distances and at regular slopes. If he produces a faulty pair, get him to point out the fault, and persevere until he hasproduced his task; if he does not do it to-day, let him go on tomorrow and the next day, and when the six perfect strokes appear, let it be an occasion of triumph. So with the little tasks of of painting , drawing, or construction he sets himself–let everything he does be well done. An unsteady house of cards is a thing to be ashamed of. Closely connected with this habit of ‘perfect work’ is that of finishing whatever is taken in hand. The child should rarely be allowed to set his hand to a new understaking until the last is finished.” Page 160
Value of Transcription–The earliest practice in writing proper for children of seven or eight should be, not letter-writing or dictation, but transcription, slow and beautiful work, for which the New Handwriting [a handwriting text] is to be preferred, though perhaps some of the more ornate characters may be omitted with advantage.
Transcription should be an introduction to spelling. Children should be encouraged to look at the word, see a pciture of it with their eyes shut, and then write from memory.
Children shold transcribe favorite passages–A certain sense of possession and delight may be added to this exercise if children are allowed to choose for transcription their favourite verse in one poem and another. This is better than to write a favourite poem, an exercise which stales on the little people before it is finished. But a book of their own, made up of their own chosen verse, should give them pleasure.
Small Text-hand–Double-ruled lines–should be used at first, as children are eager to write very minute ‘small hand’ and once they have fallen into this habit it is not easy to get good writing. A sense of beauty in their writing and in the lines they copy should carry them over this stage of their work with pleasure. Not more than ten minutes or a quarter of an hour should be given to the early writing-lessons. If they are longer the children get tired and slovenly.) pages 238, 239 (this section of volume 1 in the six volume series is especially useful for the language arts. Pages that follow cover dictation, spelling, composition and more).
From AmblesideOnline’s website, used with permission
See also my post here.